Thoughts After Reading:
Compared to the other two novels I tried to read this evening, Julianne MacLean's Married by Midnight was sheer literary bliss. Even without the unconscious comparison, though, I would still have found this book to be immensely enjoyable. Married by Midnight tells of a whirlwind romance between two strangers who have agreed to an arranged marriage in name only. To everyone's surprise, a significant emotional and physical attraction develops between them during their brief engagement. The characters and backstories of the novel are fully fleshed out, the emotions and dialogue are undeniably authentic, and the romance is interwoven with themes of family and forgiveness. The personal drama of the hero and heroine did feel a wee bit over the top at times, but MacLean managed to make it all work with little reason for complaint. My biggest uncertainly regarding the book was simply how to label it: the length is longer than a novella but shorter than a typical novel.
Both of the protagonists in Married by Midnight are strong and complex characters in their own right. The heroine has had to live in relative obscurity and poverty for the last few years, working as a companion ever since she became a "fallen woman." She tried to elope with her handsome music tutor, believing he loved her as much as she cared for him. Instead, she was left with heartbreak and scandal. Her family disowned her, and she was no longer welcomed in churches. In fact, that is one the burdens the heroine must deal with throughout the course of the book: the idea that she is not a virtuous person. Despite these difficulties, she is a sensible, no-nonsense woman with normal desires - wishing for an extended family, a handsome man, her own impossible happily ever after. The hero, meanwhile, has emotional scars from his childhood as well as survivor's guilt from a more recent experience. He is a bastard, and his father - a duke - never failed to show him disdain growing up. He has spent the last seven years traveling, and has only came home to fulfill a requirement of his father's will. The father is suffering from some kind of illness - probably Alzheimer's - and believes that all of his sons need to be happily married by Christmas to break a curse. His will reflects these beliefs, and all of his money will be donated to charity if his sons do not meet the requirements. This sets the stage for the novel: the heroine is offered a marriage of convenience, in which she receives money and freedom to have a comfortable life. The hero will receive his portion of the money as well, which he wishes to use to fix the wrongs he believes he has committed. The hero has to deal with being reacquainted with his family, deal with an ill and changed father, and - most significantly - deal with the beautiful heroine who quickly becomes an essential part of his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed Julianne MacLean's Married by Midnight. It is short in length (for a novel), but is thorough in its content of meaningful characters, well thought out backstory, historical realism, and poignant relationships. By the end of the book, it was quite satisfying to watch the protagonists get their peaceful and happy ending.